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Friday, April 14, 2006

The "winning" of Libya and the regime change demand 

An esteemed commenter in another thread asked, "Before we go any further, can we please abandon the notion that the Libya deal was an effect of the Iraq invasion?" Er, no.

The controversy over who "won" Libya is suffused with the same partisan miasma that clouds any issue that touches Iraq even slightly. On the question of the reasons for Libya's flip, however, the evidence that it was in part a collateral benefit of the invasion is stronger than the claim that it was the product of years of negotiations. The most thoughtful treatment of the subject I have read is this article by Bruce W. Jentleson and Christopher A. Whytock in the current issue of International Security. They trace the history of the sanctions against Libya, and conclude -- or, perhaps, concede -- that the object lesson of Iraq may well have influenced Qaddafi's decision to throw in the towel. The invasion of Iraq alone was not enough to lure Qaddafi in from the cold, but neither were the negotiations and sanctions since Lockerbie. Remember, we caught the Libyans smuggling centrifuge parts in October 2003, which is obviously after both the invasion of Iraq and years of sanctions and diplomacy. Neither alone seems to have deterred Qaddafi. However, by 2003 the endless sanctions had been suddenly reinforced by the new credibility in American threats. When Libya was caught red-handed, Qaddafi decided that surrender was the better form of valor. So you do not even have to get to this article (a report of an interview with Qaddafi where he says that the invasion of Iraq influenced his decision) or this article (Hans Blix grudgingly admitting the same thing) [UPDATE: or this political cartoon from the Arab world] to conclude that the hawks' basic point -- that we needed to revive our credibility after thirty years of erosion and Iraq served that purpose -- holds up.

That having been said, Messrs. Jentleson and Whytock make a strong argument that even then Qaddafi might not have flipped had the United States and its allies insisted on regime change. That demand, which we obviously imposed in the case of Saddam, is particularly difficult for dictators to accept. In not requiring regime change in Libya we gave Qaddafi a way out of Dodge, and that made the deal possible.

So what's the real lesson in the legend of Libya? I strongly believe that we were right to demand that the regime in Iraq change, in part because it was so personal to Saddam and his revolting progeny. Iran is a very different matter. Power is distributed much more widely inside Iran than it was in Ba'athist Iraq, so a demand from us for regime change in Iran without further explanation might be read by Iranians as an attack on the privileges of a much larger number of people than we intended. Point is, if we demand regime change in Iran, not only will we have left the mullahs with no room to negotiate, but we will have strengthened their ranks by appearing to threaten Iran's more secular elites. The Bush administration may be adjusting to that very scenario. Notwithstanding the widespread use of "regime change" to describe American ambitions for Iran, apparently administration officials have started to use the (even more) ambiguous term "regime transformation," a new bit of jargon originally invented for use against North Korea.

5 Comments:

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Fri Apr 14, 10:51:00 AM:

It may be that Qaddafi knew that regime change in Libya would become a demand of the United States if he did not change his ways. Isn't that the real lesson of Iraq? After all, it was only Saddam's own intransigence that forced us to go in and remove him.

Your analysis relative to Iran is interesting. I'm not sure what to think, not knowing how widely the real power in that country is spread. The point about alienating more people than might be useful is well made, and taken. I'd say the change in emphasis to regime 'transformation' is probably wise given present realities, but if it comes to nothing and we are forced to make an overt military move in Iran it should be a bold, swift one (ideally backing or even instigating a popular revolt or revolution) that would take out the ruling elites and the underground nuclear facilities all in one swell foop.

Yep, that would be swell by me.  

By Blogger Shochu John, at Fri Apr 14, 01:45:00 PM:

TH,
Thanks for the thoughtful response. I read the Jentleson/Whytock article and also found it interesting. However, I don't think your interpretation really matches its conclusions. I quote, "Alternatively, the Libya case shows what can be accomplished when regime change is taken off the table. The repeated reassurances the United States and Britain gave Libya of policy change not regime change were absolutely crucial" [P.84] Contrast this to what you emphasize, "They trace the history of the sanctions against Libya, and conclude -- or, perhaps, concede -- that the object lesson of Iraq may well have influenced Qaddafi's decision to throw in the towel." That certainly is in there as a factor that can add credibility as a coercive state. However, the conclusion quoted above suggests that the fact that Libya was expressly EXCLUDED by U.S./Britain from the "object lesson of Iraq." Ergo, it follows that had the invasion of Iraq not occurred, such reassurances would not have been necessary and Libya would have been even CLOSER to making a deal on the issue.
I have a couple of other quibbles with some of your points. Firstly, "Remember, we caught the Libyans smuggling centrifuge parts in October 2003, which is obviously after both the invasion of Iraq and years of sanctions and diplomacy. Neither alone seems to have deterred Qaddafi." Well, of course not, this was not a matter of convincing him to do anything unliaterally. It was a deal. You honestly didn't expect Khaddafi to start giving up his bargaining chips without anything in return did you? "When Libya was caught red-handed, Qaddafi decided that surrender was the better form of valor." This was not a war. He gave us what we wanted and we gave him what he wanted. Everyone goes away happy to paint the deal however they like to the folks back home. Which brings us to how the administration wanted to paint the deal, as vindication for the notion that invading Iraq created winds of democracy, peace and disarmamaent wafting across the MENA region. In other words, what you are arguing for here. Odd Arabic-language comics notwithstanding, the best agreement you get from any of these sources (Jentleson/Whytock, Khaddafi or Hans Blix) is a diplomatic and noncomittal acknowldgement that it COULD have contributed. That's a pretty weak brew, especially given that it was the administration's line on the matter.  

By Blogger geoffrobinson, at Fri Apr 14, 04:55:00 PM:

Uncovering Libya also helped us uncover the whole nuclear mess around the world.  

By Blogger opit, at Fri Apr 14, 10:48:00 PM:

Flogging Iran's intransigence while cuddling up to Pakistan left me head-scratching.
In the case of Saddam, he was left with nowhere to go. Like any cornered rat, he fought. Smarter alternatives for future problems would be nice.
That supposes of course, that one is not spoiling for a fight.  

By Blogger sirius_sir, at Sat Apr 15, 09:37:00 AM:

That supposes of course, that one is not spoiling for a fight.

In light of Ahmadinejad's recent pronouncements, who do you suppose is spoiling for a fight?

Really, I'm curious to know.  

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